Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Brownies with Browned Butter Frosting

We're on spring break this week.  It is so, so refreshing.
It's been wonderful to spend lots of time with my sister Sarah, whom I hadn't really seen in nearly two years and her girls, who are 9 and 6, just right there with my kiddos.
It's so nice to see that even with two years of not seeing each other, the cousins love each other so dearly and have the time of their lives. They've had a couple of sleepovers at my parents' house and one at ours, and they're not tired of each other yet.  That's good.

I volunteered to make dessert for a family dinner last Friday night and was excited to have the chance to make these brownies. I found them when I was assigned to The Tasty Cheapskate for the Secret Recipe Club last month and they were immediately on my list of "Make Soon" desserts.

I'm so glad I made them.  Grant's verdict: His favorite brownie ever.
And that's no joke coming from Mr. Chocoholic himself.

You take a dense, fudgy brownie and cover it with a luscious browned butter frosting and top that with a dark chocolate glaze - I mean, it is hard to beat that.

The browned butter flavor is so interesting.  Members of the family were trying to guess what it was, and I got answers like mocha, caramel, and coconut.  But nobody was convinced that their guess was correct, they just didn't know what else to call that remarkable flavor.  If you've never tried browned butter, you just have to try these brownies.  Seriously.  Just try them.

Brownies with Browned Butter Frosting 
adapted slightly from The Tasty Cheapskate

1/2 cup butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Bakers)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or 2 ounces unsweetened, 2 ounces semi-sweet)
3 Tbsp. butter

Heat oven to 300°F.  Butter a 13 x 9 " pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate.  Remove from heat and cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, and salt on medium speed for 6-8 minutes, until fluffy and thick.  Fold in the chocolate, then flour and vanilla.

Pour into the pan and bake for 30-33 minutes, until a toothpick comes out nearly clean.
Cool completely.

To prepare frosting, melt the butter on low heat until it browns.  The butter will melt, reduce in volume, get foamy and slowly start to change color.  There will be some dark flecks in the bottom of the pan.  You want the butter to get to a nice caramel color and smell nutty.  Swirl the pan or stir it so it doesn't burn.  When it gets sufficiently browned, which may take 10-20 minutes, depending on how high your heat is (and I recommend medium heat at the don't want to burn it!), give it a minute to cool then pour into a bowl.   Beat in the sugar, cream, and vanilla.

Frost the brownie layer.  Let cool for at least 15 minutes.

To prepare the glaze, melt the chocolate and butter in a small pan on very low heat.  Pour over the icing layer and gently spread it by tipping the pan back and forth.
Let it cool and set up for about an hour, then cut the brownies into squares.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Classic Chocolate Layer Cake

It's my blogiversary!

Five years I've been at this blogging's really hard to believe.

I know I don't have the most beautiful pictures, the most frequent postings, or the snazzy features of the popular food bloggers, but I enjoy my blog and the few minutes I carve out each week to post about one of the new recipes I made and actually got a chance to photograph.  And I appreciate each and every one of you who stop by and check things out, leave sweet comments, and maybe even give one of my recipes a try.  Truly I do.

So this cake wasn't really for my was actually a belated birthday cake for my sister Sarah, who lives in Tennessee and is visiting this week with her precious girls.  Her birthday was last week and so I thought it fitting to have a little family celebration, complete with a dark chocolate cake.
I was going to go all fancy and add a raspberry mousse filling.....but I just ran out of time for the extra shopping that would have required.

But Sarah didn't mind.  This cake is incredibly rich and decadent, with the frosting/filling reminding me of a truffle.  Creamy, intense, and so delicious.  Even the chocoholics among us had to stop with small pieces and savor each bite slowly.  Oh, except for Miranda (17 months), who couldn't shovel it down fast enough.  And then move on to mooch off someone else who still had some on their plate.  Girl after my own heart, that one.  

So here's to many more birthdays for my sister, and to many more years of blogging for me!

Classic Chocolate Layer Cake
adapted slightly from Annie's Eats

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pans
2 tsp. instant espresso or coffee powder
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature (I used salted)
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

10 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used a full package of Ghiradelli 60%)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbsp. cocoa powder, sifted
2/3 cup sour cream
2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream or milk (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter the edges of two 9" round cake pans and dust with cocoa powder, shaking out the excess.  Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, coffee powder, and boiling water.  Whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.  When cooled down a bit, whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth.  Gradually blend in the sugar and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; whisk to blend.

With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the chocolate mixture, beating each addition just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake the cake layers for about 23- 27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack in the pans for at least 30 minutes before inverting onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Set aside to cool until just barely warm.  In the bowl of  a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Gradually mix in the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream.  Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended.  If frosting is too thick, add cream or milk to get the proper spreading consistency.

To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Spread an even layer of the frosting over the top of the cake.  Top with the second cake layer.  Frost the top and sides.  You can do a crumb coat and then refrigerate for 30 minutes before doing the final coat if you want, but I didn't find it necessary.  The cake wasn't crumby at all.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to get a soft, billowy appearance if desired.

Note: I stored this cake at room temperature and it was fine.....but you might choose to refrigerate it.  I would recommend letting it come to room temperature before serving it, though. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pineapple Pie

We had the pleasure of having my parents join us for dinner last Thursday, which also happened to be Pi Day (3/14).  I had already made a couple of pies for Grant to take to a work potluck (one of which he brought home untouched.....apparently there was a huge amount of food there.  No complaints here....we got to eat the pie after all!) but I also wanted to make a pie for the family to enjoy.  

Knowing that one of my dad's absolute favorite desserts is pineapple pie, that made it an obvious choice.  
He's even requested it for his birthday dessert a time or two, so it really ranks up there for him. 
I couldn't even remember the last time I had eaten it, and I was pretty sure my kids had never even tasted it.  
I have no idea where the recipe came from originally - I know my mom made it occasionally when I was growing up, but I don't know where she got it.  It's definitely one you don't see or hear about every day, but it is a real gem.  

Of my family, Marissa was particularly fond of it....she preferred it to the Snickers Peanut Butter Pie, as did both of my parents. In fact, my parents took home a couple of pieces of each for later and let my younger brother sample them when he dropped by their house, and he preferred this Pineapple pie as well.  

It's not overpoweringly sweet or rich, but is a delightfully fruity and satisfying dessert.

Let me know if you try it!    

Pineapple Pie

Pastry for 9-inch one crust pie, unbaked
3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup pineapple juice (drained from can)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 (20 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Prepare pastry and line pie pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs slightly.  Add butter, lemon juice, and pineapple juice; blend on low speed.  Add sugar, flour, and salt; beat until smooth. Stir in pineapple. Pour in pastry-lined pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes, or until pie is set.

Cool to room temperature before serving - or refrigerate and serve cold.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Snickers Peanut Butter Pie

Happy Pi Day!

To tell you the truth, I'm definitely not a math geek.  

But I like any excuse to make pie, especially since we don't eat it nearly often enough for my preference around here.  

To tell another truth, I'm terrible at making pie crust.  Maybe because I refuse to use shortening - it's all butter around here - maybe my technique is all wrong - I don't know....but I can follow directions exactly and my crusts never turn out good.  So these are store-bought.  And I'm not sorry.  

Okay, so if you wanna know a little more about me, keep reading.....if not, just skip to the recipe at the end, and believe me, you'll want it.  

Many years ago, like almost 14 years ago, *gulp* I graduated from college, with a degree in therapeutic recreation.  (3 cheers if you have any clue what that is) 
Side note: I am the middle of five children.  All of us have college diplomas, and not a one of us got a job related to what we studied. How do you like those stats?  Raise your hand if you actually do (or did before having kids) have a job that correlates to your degree.  

So after graduation, my older sister and I moved to Nashville and I got a job at a alternative school as an associate teacher/counselor (in other words, I made $20,000 a year.)  I was desperate for something.  Those pesky bills weren't going away.  In case you aren't familiar with alternative schools, this particular one was for kids who had been kicked out of the metro school system and additionally had some sort of special needs (some were genuine disabilities or disorders, others were just the results of poor family situations.)
It was a K-12 school with about 150 students with severe behavior problems.  

It was a difficult job, to say the least.  
In my first couple of days there, another teacher (older black male) commented, "You'll never make it here a month."
"Why?" I retorted defensively.
Nonchalantly he replied, "You're young, you're white, and you're female."

Well, he was right about me wanting to leave, probably within the week, but I think because I wanted to prove him wrong (and those pesky bills), I stuck it out for two years. 

Oh, the stories I would tell my sister at the end of the day.  She couldn't believe I would go back for more. 
Some days were really good, actually.  On those days I would go home with no new bruises.  
There were some truly rewarding encounters, some good relationships built, but overall I think the stress level would have done me in if I had stayed longer.  Thank goodness I got married and moved an hour away!

Anyways, I mention all of that because the recipe for the bottom portion of this pie came from my boss at that school, the lady who had founded it with her husband.  She would make a couple of these "Fudge Pies" for every work potluck and they would be gone in minutes.  Staff members would be fighting over them, hiding pieces in their desks, etc.  It was pretty funny.  

I love it's absolutely delicious by itself.....but in honor of Pi Day, I decided to take it up a notch and make it into this Snickers Pie, which I saw on Crazy for Crust awhile back.  

Unfortunately for me and the kids, the pies went with Grant to work for a potluck. We only sampled a piece last night.  It was amazing.  

Slightly gooey chocolaty brownie bottom, a rich peanut buttery nougat, caramel and peanuts, a chocolate drizzle, and Snickers bars for garnish.  Just in case you didn't have enough sweet in there.  

I took the nougat recipe called for in the original pie and divided it between two pies, which I thought worked out just fine. If you want it lots of nougat, double the amount of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter.  I also decreased the amount of peanuts on the top and made my own chocolate drizzle, although you could certainly just use store bought hot fudge sauce.   

Snickers Peanut Butter Pie 
(adapted slightly from Crazy for Crust)

1 pie crust
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp salt (omit if you used salted butter)

Filling and Topping:
1/2 of a 7 oz. jar marshmallow fluff 
1/2 cup peanut butter
17 caramels, unwrapped
2 Tbs. milk
3/4 cup to 1 cup peanuts
3 Tbs. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted with 1 Tbs. cream OR 2 Tbs. hot fudge sauce
3 Fun Size Snickers bars, cut into fourths

Preheat oven to 325°.  
Stir melted butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs together.  Add salt if using.  Pour over unbaked crust.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until set. 
Cool completely before topping.
Stir together peanut butter and marshmallow fluff in a large bowl.  Spread evenly over brownie layer.
Place caramels and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir often until melted and smooth. Remove from heat, stir in the peanuts, and spread over the fluff mixture.
Melt chocolate chips with cream and stir until smooth.  Place in a ziploc bag and snip a corner off, then drizzle over the pie.  
Place sliced Snickers bars around the edge for decoration. 

Store and serve pie at room temperature. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

SRC: Eggless Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

I am very thankful that none of my children have food allergies.  A couple of my older brother's children do and it can make things rather challenging.  This cake, for example, would be a no-no because of the peanut butter frosting.  However, the cake unfrosted would be a great option for my niece Eva, since she's allergic to dairy and eggs....and this cake has neither.  That's really hard to find in baked goods.

That's why I chose this recipe to make for the Secret Recipe Club this month.  The blog I was assigned is called This Mama Cooks, where Anne-Marie's mission is to help busy families get on the road to living a more healthy lifestyle by sharing good-for-you recipes and lifestyle tips.  She even covers health topics like vitamins and nutrition, dental health and braces, skin products, exercise, and weight loss.  

I found several recipes I want to try, like Chicken, Sweet Potato and Apple Skillet, Slow Cooker Machaca Beef , and Huevos Rancheros.... but I just couldn't resist trying an eggless cake.  I made one about 10 years ago and remember really liking it......but for some reason hadn't made it again.  So I figured it was about time I gave it a shot again.  

I really like this cake.  Now, I'm not gonna lie, it won't replace Hershey's Dark Chocolate Cake as my favorite go-to chocolate cake recipe,  but it is a delicious alternative and sure does accommodate people with allergies better.  And even if you don't have allergies, it's great to make if you're having that cake craving and don't have an egg in the house.  

I did change up the frosting recipe, by using my favorite peanut butter frosting from Ina that I also used on my birthday cake last year.  But really you could use whatever frosting you like.  

Eggless Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
(Cake from This Mama Cooks, frosting from Ina Garten)

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
9 Tbs. cocoa, sifted (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs)
2 cups cold water
2 Tbs. white vinegar
3/4 cup oil (I used expeller pressed coconut oil)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl using an electric mixer.  Combine well, but don't overbeat.
Pour into a greased 13 x 9 baking pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool completely before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting: 
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
Grated chocolate for garnish, optional

Place the sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work.  Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Friday, March 8, 2013

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cheesecake

You know the old saying, "Better late than never"?  

So totally applies here. Nearly three months has passed since we indulged in this incredible cheesecake.    
This was the dessert I made for Christmas Eve......and I made a second one as a Christmas gift for my brother and his girlfriend.  

However, I think that peppermint is a perfectly acceptable flavor all year round, and I refuse to wait till next Christmas season to share this recipe.  

It certainly takes several steps and requires at least a couple of days to make, since you have to make the peppermint bark a day before making the cheesecake.  (Well, I suppose you could toss the bark in the freezer to firm up faster, so you could rush the process, but it doesn't hurt to plan ahead. )

But it is definitely worth the wait.  

Here's the breakdown:

Creamy white chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust, studded with chunks of white and dark chocolate peppermint bark, topped with a luscious white chocolate mousse, and garnished with those scrumptious little Andes peppermint baking bits (or peppermint candies if you prefer).  

Yep.  Pretty hard to resist.  And a perfectly festive finale to a Christmas Eve dinner, or a Christmas dinner, or a Tuesday night dinner.  Just sayin'.

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cheesecake 
(adapted slightly from Baked by Rachel)

Peppermint Bark: 
4 oz milk or dark chocolate
4 oz white chocolate
1 tsp. oil, divided
1/4 tsp peppermint extract, divided
Crushed candy canes or peppermint candies, powder removed

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. 

Prepare candy canes by unwrapping and tossing in a ziplock bag.  Smash with a meat tenderizer, rolling pin, or other heavy object.  Don't pulverize the candy, but don't leave any huge chunks either.  Place in a fine-mesh strainer and shake gently (over the sink or garbage) to remove the dust.  

In a medium sized bowl, place milk or dark chocolate and 1/2 tsp. oil.  Melt in the microwave in 30 second intervals at 50% power.  Stir well after each 30 seconds.  When fully melted, add 1/8 tsp. peppermint extract. Stir well.  Spread out evenly on prepared pan.  Sprinkle with crushed candies. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until chocolate has set.  

Repeat process with white chocolate.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (or 22 regular Oreos with filling - not double stuffed)
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 oz. white chocolate, melted (I used a Ghirradeli bar)
1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
1-1/2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. peppermint extract
3 eggs
Peppermint Bark Recipe, broken into chunks 

1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. white chocolate, melted
1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Peppermint pieces, Andes peppermint baking bits, or shaved chocolate for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a blender or food processor, blend cookies until they're fine crumbs. Stir together with melted butter.  Press into the bottom of a 9" springform pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Set aside.

Reduce oven temp. to 325°.  

Cut up peppermint bark into small pieces.  Set aside

Melt 4 oz. white chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler.  Stir until smooth.  

In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and mix well.  Scrape bowl well prior to each new addition and as needed.  Add melted chocolate, flour, heavy cream, salt, and peppermint extract.  Mix well.  On medium/low speed, add one egg at a time.  Mix until smooth, but don't overbeat. 

Stir in peppermint bark pieces by hand. 

Pour filling into crust and bake at 325°F. for 1 hour.  Turn off the oven.  Keeping the door shut, leave the cheesecake in the oven for an additional 45 minutes.  Remove and allow to sit for at least 1 hour before chilling.

Chill 4 hours or overnight before adding the mousse.  

To make the mousse, begin by making whipped cream. Pour the heavy cream in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  

In another medium bowl, beat softened cream cheese, melted white chocolate, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in whipped cream until fully incorporated. 

Carefully remove the side of springform pan.  Spread mousse mixture evenly over cheesecake. Chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.  

Serve slices with Andes peppermint baking bits or crushed peppermint candies and chocolate shavings if desired.

Store covered in the refrigerator.

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